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Senate passes new COA panel bill

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The Indiana Senate has given its OK to add three judges to the state's second highest appellate court.

By a 47-2 vote just before 7 p.m. Monday, senators passed Senate Bill 35 that would create a sixth Indiana Court of Appeals panel and increase the number of judges from 15 to 18 starting in January 2010. Sen. Vi Simpson, D-Bloomington, and Sen. James Lewis, D-Charlestown, voted against the legislation, though no one spoke against the bill on the floor.

Bill author Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville - chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that unanimously authorized this bill and also the leader of the Commission on Courts that's repeatedly recommended the panel's creation in past years - reminded his colleagues that this new panel of judges has been recommended for at least five years, and that it's inevitable and becomes more pressing each year.

"Each year we need it a little worse," he said, referring to a growing appellate caseload nearing 3,000 a year.

During a Senate Judiciary meeting in January, Chief Judge John Baker said the court achieved a clearance rate of 100 percent last year and maintains an average turnaround time for decisions of about 1 ½ months - two points that allows Indiana's intermediate appellate court to be able to say it's the most efficient court of its kind nationally.

While the court is doing well to keep up and the chief judge hasn't made any official request for more judges, both he and Bray said the need will eventually become critical as the ever-growing caseload continues but the judicial resources remain the same. If the General Assembly doesn't add more judges, Bray said the court will be left with options of writing fewer opinions, spending less time on cases, or decreasing the quality of its judicial work - none of those are legally desirable, he said.

"This may be subject to budget constraints and may not happen this year," he said. "But once again, we keep postponing the inevitable. If the fiscal people could find anyway to get this in, I think it would benefit our state, our legal system, and everyone."

A hurdle may arise for the legislation now that it moves to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives: The bill's fiscal impact statement estimates spending $1.3 million the first year and $2.2 million thereafter, which could cause more legislative apprehension.

If the General Assembly passes the legislation and the governor signs it into law, the Judicial Nominating Commission would begin the selection process later this year, according to the proposal.

Reps. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, and Kathy Richardson, R-Noblesville, have agreed to sponsor the appellate judge panel legislation in the House.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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